America Has E.D. (Electile Dysfunction)
A common adage claims "the first step in solving any problem is recognizing that there is one." Well, quite simply, America has an E.D., or "electile dysfunction" problem, and most Americans are already aware of it.
How Many Elected Officials?!?
Let's start out with a simple, but nerd-like, question: just how many elected officials are there (in total) in the United States? Well, start with the president and vice-president (2), add in the members of Congress (100 Senators, 435 Representatives), then move on to state governors (50). After that, the count starts to get a little out of hand as there are differing numbers of legislators per state (depending on the state).
But wait! There's more! There are over 3000 counties/parishes nationwide, more than 19,000 cities and towns each of which has some form of elected government, including county executives, county councils, mayors, and city councils. There are judges, school boards, utility boards - even coroner is an elected position in some areas, and one location (Duxbury, Vermont) actually elects a dog catcher. One government professor did the research and counted over half a million (519,682) elected positions within the United States as a whole, and even she admits that there might be more. And guess what? There ARE still more! One category that the professor left out (not unreasonably) are party officials at the state and local levels, who in many states are often elected on primary election ballots along with candidates for regular offices.
This monstrous number of elected officials, whatever the final tally may finally be, prompts questions of its own, like do we have too many elections and elected offices in this country? Most Americans would respond to that question with a resounding “YES!” Surely positions like judge and coroner should be appointed positions, but beyond that, do we really need so many overlapping layers of government?
Too Many Elections
In political circles, the elections this year (2022) are referred to as "mid-term" elections because they happen in the middle of a presidential term. And most voters will be asked to step into the voting booth at least twice this year; once in the primaries, and again in the general election. Beyond these are the local and special elections that raise the count of elections in which Americans are asked to vote. It is estimated that in some areas, Americans may be asked to vote in as many as 20 to 40 separate national, state, and local contests within a four-year period.
So, why does the U.S. have so many elections? Well, I could tell you, but my answer would probably be very long and very boring and would not help to relieve the stress to which voters are subjected multiple times per year. Keep in mind, however, that most of the present "voting mania" is just as reviled now as it was when it was first enacted over 100 years ago. The common contention correctly asserts that the prevalence of elections and primary contests weakens the democracy by dissipating citizen engagement. Translation: Americans simply have "voter burnout".
The sheer number of elected offices is only exacerbated by the frequency with which voters are called to cast ballots. Turning out several times per year seems pretty common with some areas asking voters to cast their ballots on four or five occasions per year. In my area of northern Texas, we have already had the Old Party primaries, but there are still three more scheduled election days between now and November 8, bringing the total this year to five elections. For each of these elections, voters need to divert time and attention away from other endeavors to gather the information needed to distinguish the many candidates on the many ballots so that they can cast a meaningful vote. Then, there's the time and effort needed to physically cast their vote in each election. Seen from the voter's perspective, more elections equals overloaded citizens, and overloaded citizens skip elections.
Apart from the marquee presidential contests every four years, large majorities of people skip or ignore today’s flood of elections, especially in races for local and certain state offices. Even in the important elections to Congress, half or less of the voting-age population turns out for mid-term contests in November and far less for primaries. With many citizens opting out, the voters who DO turn up often come with an agenda or interest to promote.
What To Do About It
Some options include retiring defunct municipal and local elections that draw few candidates and relatively few voters. Other options suggest holding national, state, and local elections on the same dates and consolidating state primaries within a particular region. In the end, the aim should be to concentrate the public mind and elevate public awareness and knowledge.
Democracy requires focused and engaged citizens. Fewer important elections would strengthen democracy.